6 Key Tools for Managing Anxiety

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The holidays are about being with friends and family. But this time of year can also be busy, stressful, and anxiety-inducing. Small things like the weather, traffic, gifts, and dinner parties, along with larger factors like relationships, politics, and expectations, can all contribute to these overwhelming feelings of anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that manifests in a variety of different levels. It becomes a disorder when the feelings of worry or fear are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. There are more than three million cases of anxiety disorder per year in the US, and the symptoms and treatment are different for everyone.

The good news: there are some basic skills we can learn to control it. Below are just a few.

Recognize

According to Psych Central, anxiety often stems from thought holes, which are easy to get yourself into and difficult to dig yourself out of. Studies show self-defeating thoughts (i.e., “I’m a loser”) can trigger self-defeating emotions (i.e., pain, anxiety, malaise) that, in turn, cause self-defeating actions (i.e., acting out, skipping work). Left unchecked, this tendency can lead to more severe conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Psychologist Aaron Beck, often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy, uncovered several common thought holes as seen below.

  1. Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions as opposed to definitive facts
  2. Mental filtering: paying attention to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
  3. Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects in a situation
  4. Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects in a situation
  5. Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
  6. Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
  7. Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
  8. Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality or confusing feelings with facts

Understand

Now that you’ve identified your thought patterns, know that you are not having a heart attack. You’re not going crazy, either. The fact that you’re able to question whether or not you’re going crazy means that you aren’t. People who have lost touch with reality lack insight and don’t have the ability to question or worry about their mental state.

Anxiety feeds off itself until, after awhile, you get anxious about being anxious. The more you struggle against it, the more it will stay. The more you can accept your anxiety, the quicker your anxiety will fade.

Breathe

We hear this all the time, but it really does work. Take these simple recommendations from Hey Sigmund to begin:

  1. Sit quietly. Breathe in through your nose to the count of three, ‘In, two, three.’ Breathe out through your nose to the count of three, ‘Relax, two, three.’ Repeat until your breathing is under control.
  2. Make yourself aware of your breathing. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in so that your stomach rises. Hold your breath briefly. Breathe out slowly, thinking ‘relax’ and feeling your stomach fall. Try to make sure that the hand on your chest doesn’t move very much. Repeat 5 to 10 times, concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly. Practice in advance – even on the good days – so you’ll have it when you need it.
  3. Try to slow your breathing down. Do this by taking a short pause between when you breathe out and when you breathe in.

Relax

Believe it or not, relaxation takes practice. Start with progressively relaxing tensing and relaxing the muscles from your toes to your head. Start with your toes – tense for a couple of seconds, then relax. Then, move to your feet – tense, relax. Then work your way up to your head.

Meditate

Meditation takes years for people to master–if they ever do. But the positive benefits of basic mindfulness techniques have been proven over and over again. It’s a powerful way to elicit the relaxation response and involves observing or noticing what’s happening now, in each unfolding moment, without judgment. You’ll find some great pointers on Hey Sigmund.

Exercise

Research has shown that getting active five times a week, even if it’s for just five minutes, makes people less anxious, stressed, and depressed. If you’re not the type to get sweaty at the gym, a 20-30 minute brisk walk works just as well. In fact, it has the same effect on the brain as antidepressants.

Anxiety can be scary–especially during the holidays–but there are ways to manage it. Feel free to contact Alison Sorenson for more information.

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